When It’s Not A Race

Over the weekend, I found myself this close to the finish line on a big task. Then my bobbin thread ran out. After a moment of frustration, I thought how silly that was compared to the Olympic triathletes who had to change bicycle tires during their race. I love the Olympics. Puts things in perspective.

I’ve been sewing the proofing swatches of my Spoonflower fabric designs into sample collections, both for my own reference and to make it easier to illustrate concepts in my Digital Fabric workshops. I teach that again this week for Michigan League of Handweavers. And I have plenty of samples. So I didn’t refill the bobbin and kick for the finish line. Instead, I got wash off the clothesline, went for a walk with Bill and Scout, and watched the Olympics again.

Sometimes it feels like the clock is always ticking and the to-do list never gets shorter. It’s August and unpulled weeds have set seeds. I haven’t started the deck project. And my ambitious summer dyeing plans? Those withered on the vine.

But I did get a staghorn sumac dyebath brewed from Bill’s leftovers. We gathered last week for a batch of wine. Bill scraped the fuzzy berries for wine, and I got the staghorn stalks and leaves for dyeing. After a couple days of soaking in Mom’s aluminum jelly kettle, I put the kettle on the stove to barely simmer for an hour or so. Yesterday I strained the liquid, but I haven’t dyed with it yet. It looked like there’s color left, so I put the solids into bags in the freezer to deal with later. Maybe when I’m back from Michigan.

Probably not. I need to do the things its been too hot and busy to do before it gets too cold.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching the Olympics and celebrating the achievements of all the athletes who made it there, whether they get to stand on a podium or not. 

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Easily Distracted, In A Good Way

Do you do this? I’m a hard-working, responsible, self-employed person with a long to-do list for the week that includes blog posts about the conference I just returned from, my new e-books, and more good stuff, and getting ready to leave for another teaching engagement. What am I doing instead of crossing tasks off that list?

Playing with the Victoria and Albert Museum’s online Patchwork Pattern Maker utility. You can use an image from their collection, or upload your own, like I did. The image below is from a photo I took in my front yard last year then digitally altered. The image above is the chart from the V&A.

I don’t suppose I should tell you that I have no intention of piecing a quilt. But boy, is this fun.

You can get a free download of the PDF pattern and instructions for making a quilt from this image here, or go here to convert your own image into a piecing pattern. Have fun!

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Order, Chaos, and a Productive Cough

There’s something oddly satisfying about hacking luscious, buttery Ultrasuede into bits. After spending so much time at the computer lately, cutting class components offered a welcome respite last week. 

But don’t think this level of order reigns throughout my realm. Here’s what my desk looked like one morning last week before I tidied. It’s time to clean up again.

Still, it’s a wonderful kind of minor chaos, filled with possibilities. I know students are looking forward to the classes I’m preparing for. And I always look forward to seeing what they do with the ideas and materials they find ready and waiting when they walk through the door.

When I walk into my studio, that sense of possibility is a balm for my spirit. I’ve been spending more time than usual at the computer working with formats that are new to me. That, of course, means making mistakes and false starts, then backtracking to fix things, and eventually starting over from scratch once I know what I’m doing.

I spent some time in the studio last week pondering this question: Why do I feel fine with mistakes and false starts in my artwork but not so much in the office? In my artwork, I know that time isn’t wasted, that it’s necessary to do that work to get to work that shines with possibility. It’s productive — sort of like the kind of cough that clears your lungs so you can breathe again.

In the office, it’s always been harder for me to get a sense of creative satisfaction out of mistakes and false starts. I guess I need to alter the picture in my head of what productivity looks when it involves a keyboard and mouse.

In the meantime, I find it oddly satisfying to hack Ultrasuede to bits. What do you do?

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5 Ways To Be More Productive

A while back I agreed to do something that’s been making me a little crazy. Earlier this week, I worked through a 5-step plan that helped me fight the panic. Yesterday I outlined a doable plan for meeting my goal. I know what I need to get done. Now I just need to make sure I stay at my most productive until I meet this goal. Here’s what I know I have to do.

  1. Set Intentional Limits. My normal strategy would be to work on this project every waking hour (and most of the sleeping ones) until the deadline. Picture my fingers bleeding on the thread and frozen pizza for supper every night. It works, but frankly I’m tired of this approach. This time, I’m setting a limit on the hours I’ll spend on this project each day, and taking one day a week where I don’t touch this work. At all.
  2. Permission To Play. Up to now, I’ve had Christmas gifts to work on in the evenings. Here’s how I plan to get around #1 now: When I’ve exhausted my time budget, I give myself permission to play for a couple of hours in the evening on stuff that may be related to the work I’m doing to meet my goal but not earmarked for any outcome. If a play piece turns out better than the “real thing,” I can substitute. But that’s not my intention. I just need to know I have an outlet for any wild ideas that crop up as I’m working.
  3. Warm Up Each Morning. I’ve set aside 15 minutes each morning for creativity exercises to get me revved up and ready to be productive. I’m posting some of these at my other blog, Compost and Creativity.
  4. Unplug. To meet this goal, my hands need to stay busy. But most things are worked out in my head. I need to be able to hear the voices (please don’t send the guys in the white coats to get me). So for at least part of every day, I have to turn off the CDs, the radio and the MP3 player, ignore the phone, stay away from the computer. I need to be paying attention.
  5. Go To Bed. I have a reasonable plan for meeting my goals that can be achieved in the time available. I’ll be more productive if I’m rested. I’ll be less crabby if I’m rested. I might even be more realistic in my critiques if I’m rested.

That’s it. I’m calmer, I have a master plan that’s doable, and a productivity plan to guide me through the days ahead. I’m back to work after my holiday stall, feeling much better about the way this year is ending, and excited about moving ahead. OK, so I broke #1 last night — but I’m really happy with the way the piece is shaping up!

I hope the New Year brings you wonderful adventures and challenges you enjoy. Will you share how you plan to stay productive to meet those challenges? Just hit the comment button.

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